Southwestern Tribes Talk Indigenous Rights
April 27, 2012

Tribal leaders from across the Southwest gathered in Arizona this week to discuss how to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

The US and many other countries endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2010.

James Anaya is a human rights lawyer who reports to the UN about indigenous people.

Anaya says American Indian tribes have moved from an era of assimilation to an era of recognition. Now he says is the time for an era of realization.

"The declaration affirms a range of human rights norms that are rooted in the central idea that indigenous peoples have the right to continue to exist as distinct peoples with their own defining cultural identities and institutions and to determine their own destinies under conditions of equality," Anaya said.

As one scholar pointed out at the meeting, the declaration is about cultural survival. Several tribal leaders and members spoke to Anaya about violations of their rights.

"There’s so much suffering that’s still going on. And lots of people don’t realize these things are going on," said Leta Daniel, a member of the Navajo Nation.

Their concerns ranged from clean and abundant drinking water and better living conditions to preserving sacred places, language and artifacts.

Anaya will report his findings and proposals to the human rights council in Geneva in September.